Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Roger & Me (PCS Repost)

I started No Cure For Comics as a distraction. The blog was my outlet during the summer of 2009, when I sat in isolated recovery from surgery and radiation therapy for thryoid cancer that had been diagnosed earlier that year. I got better, I suppose, though I'm not cured. I'll be taking medication for the rest of my life, and I am almost certainly due for another round of radiation in the coming months. But I've been well enough to return to work full time, resume my regularly scheduled living, and (good for me, bad for my readership) no longer require the therapeutic diversion of constant blogging.

Still, at my more leisurely current rate, I write about comic books, movies, nostalgia, and sometimes my cancer. These areas of interest are encapsulated in a person dubbed an "Essential Man" in an article I consider essential reading--a profile from the March 2010 issue of Esquire of iconic film critic and thryoid cancer survivor Roger Ebert.

I grew up watching At the Movies and Siskel & Ebert. Back then, I knew Ebert simply as the fat one from the bickering balconeers reviewing the weekly film releases of the 80s and 90s. After the skinny one, Gene Siskel, passed away in 1999, Ebert seemed to shed this old caricature image and take on a more scholarly voice in his reviews (or maybe it was there all along, and I was the one who matured)--even while remaining one of the few mainstream film critics to respect geek interests and appeal to the sensibilities of the Comic Con crowd (I didn't mature too much to not think this was awesome of him). After his initial illness--thyroid cancer, diagnosed in 2002--Ebert began to transcend his and Siskel's thumbs up/thumbs down gimmick. When he lost the ability to speak (lost his entire lower jaw, in fact!) due to aggressive radiation and metastasized disease, Ebert stepped out of the televised spotlight, but hardly missed a beat with his written reviews. He proved that, once you got past the bantering "Siskel & Ebert" (and later "Ebert & Roeper") schtick, the man is a critical genius--a master of cinematic opinion and appreciation. And even though he can only give a proverbial tongue lashing these days, he weilds a deadly pen and types with lethal keys. The way he has continued living his life despite disfigurement and disability is, of course, amazing as well.

The article, written by Chris Jones, has been making the Internet rounds all week, and for good reason. Ebert's story has all of the ingredients of great cinema--for which the iconic critic would surely (at least under more objective circumstances) give an enthusiastic "thumbs up."

Ebert's story inspires and terrifies me. It is insane to me that he has the will and the enthusiasm to continue like he has, a testament to how a strong mind and spirit can outlast and outshine a broken body.

But Ebert's tale also scares me, because, while I'd love to follow his lead should my own disease take me down a similarly horrifying road, I think his celebrity (the celebration of him, not just the fact that he has money and can get a seat in an exclusive restaurant) and a full life's worth of accomplishment before the disease are what gives him his strength today. I am no icon. I'm not even a famous caricature. I think I'd take a legacy as the fat one, just to have a legacy at all. Ebert's example makes me even more desperate to find my own voice, like he did his, before I lose it.

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